3 May 2009

Review: X-Men Origins- Wolverine

If you have a broadband connection, you've probably seen it already! If you've seen X-Men 2, you've probably seen it already! But it's here in cinemas now!

Yes, X-Men Origins- Wolverine is being advertised as the first X-Men movie that centres solely around Wolverine, which is odd as the other three all centre around Wolverine too. But nevertheless, we press on to my review of the film I've seen three times now- twice in the cinema and the other was the "workprint" at the beginning of April. I use "workprint" in inverted comments because despite what Fox claimed, the finished product has nothing different besides finished special effects, which don't do an awful lot for the complaints the fans have had. As always, the IMDB forums are the hub of the hysteria, with histrionic post titles such like "Will there be a wing for this movie opened in the Holocaust museum?" Moving onwards now though, to a review that contains a fairly big spoiler or two, along with major spoilers for the other three X-Men films, which I presume you've seen if you're reading a review of the prequel.


Who's in it? Hugh Jackman (Australia), Liev Schreiber (Defiance), Lynn Collins (The Number 23) Danny Huston (How to Lose Friends and Alienate People), and Ryan Reynolds (Adventureland).

What's it all about? Does what it says on the tin, although a more truncated and sensible title might have just been Wolverine. Basically, James (Jackman) and his brother Victor (Schreiber) are on the run from an early age, both having an extraordinary lifespan thanks to their mutant powers of regeneration. Although they usually apply their unique skills to warfare or mercenary work, James/Logan/whatever he's called in any given scene wants out. But when his newfound domestic harmony is cruelly destroyed by Victor, he sets out for revenge on his brother with the aid of an indestructible metal bonded to his skeleton.

Any good? One thing I will establish to begin with is that I have all the goodwill in the world towards Hugh Jackman. He's a good actor, I usually enjoy his films, and he seems like a nice guy in real life- he was kind enough to buy $8,000 worth of breakfast for fans when he heard they were camping out overnight outside a US theater to see this film. So there's certainly no Coxian hatred for him here, and that goes for most of the cast. Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins and Ryan Reynolds all turn in terrific performances, and its certainly not any fault of the cast that this film turned out so bland and predictable.

Oddly enough, I've also heard good things about director Gavin Hood's other work, so the only reasons I can think of for his short-changing of everything Bryan Singer set up in the first two X-Men movies are the terrible script and the interference of Tom Rothman. I could do a whole other blog entry about how Tom Rothman has destroyed so many franchises with his douchebag meddling, so I'll stay focused on the script. If when you sit down to watch Wolverine (I'm calling it that, rather than the correct but unnecessarily long title), if you have sudden deja-vu at dialogue such as "This isn't what we signed up for", "I'm so cold" or "Let's do this", then fear not. Those are just lines that have appeared in plenty of other action films over the years and have been uselessly regurgitated by screenwriters David Benioff and Skip Woods, the latter being the writer of such classics as Hitman and Swordfish. And sloppy narrative is where this film falls down.

Without wanting to outright list spoilers in order to prove my point, you'll notice if you keep your mind working during this film that scene-by-scene, the film constantly contradicts itself. A character dies in one scene, and the next has his mates talking about how he knew his attempts to catch Wolverine wouldn't work, so he prepared a better idea. Why didn't he then use that idea to go after Wolvie instead of getting killed? If this were any other action film, I'd be appalled at myself for picking it apart in such cerebral manner, but I only remember the first two X-Men films. Bryan Singer worked hard in those films to establish the continuity as outside of the realms of our own world as it is, but still maintained a general common sense about the proceedings. Guess who rushed out the third X-Men film without Singer, leading us down the path to this film? Tom Rothman. Promise I won't mention him again, because he makes me mad enough to go on a really huge tangent.

So you can't even really defend Wolverine by saying it's a park-your-brain X-Men film. There should be no such thing- the series at its best (i.e. with Singer at the helm), has a lot to say about racial equality and discrimination while still keeping the action element, but Wolverine has simply thrown all that out. Literally in some cases, as they make no effort to match Logan's operation with what we saw in flashback throughout X-Men 2. Come to think of it, X-Men 2 covers Wolverine's origins pretty conclusively. The only loose end is General Stryker, played then by Brian Cox and nailed in Wolverine by the excellent Danny Huston, telling Logan that he volunteered for the operation, and that only he can help him restore his memory of why. Logan doesn't care and leaves Stryker to die, so why are the audience expected to care any more than Logan does? I don't know about you, but perhaps that was my problem with this film when I first saw the trailers. It's unnecessary.

What do we have then, in Wolverine? Besides mindless action without any common sense or logic in the narrative, we have another plethora of mutants being introduced and then ignored to play second-fiddle to Logan. They even bring back a younger Cyclops just to give him less screentime than anyone else again. Then again, not all the supporting cast are neglected- Gambit is well-served by Taylor Kitsch's performance, and Blob is a cameo that actually works, because it's a comic-relief scene that's reminiscent of the 90s cartoon series. But what's unforgivable is dressing a Black-Eyed Pea who can't act up as a cowboy and then casting him as John Wraith, and then giving him more screentime than three or four much more capable performers cast as even more short-changed characters. And worse, although Schreiber is terrific, his dynamic with Jackman isn't really given much scope for development beyond the latter shouting "VICTOOOOOOR!" right before they start fighting again. Over and over again. And there really is a special circle of hell for how Wade Wilson is mistreated, especially given how well Ryan Reynolds portrays him. Whatever that thing at the end is, Woods and Benioff- that's not Deadpool.

Wolverine is not entirely without merit, however negative the bulk of what I've just written seems to say otherwise. The cast is largely excellent, soldiering on with the material they're left with. Additionally, there seems to be a good film struggling to get out between the numerous action sequences, but even if that's true, it can't escape the fact that this film is an unnecessary exercise in Fox renewing its licence to the X-Men franchise. The Last Stand killed any shot they had at continuing the franchise in a linear method, so they've gone back to the beginning. I only hope the planned Magneto and First Class (centring around young Cyclops, Beast et al) are given a lot more thought than this rushed, cheap-looking mess of a film. Watch X-Men 2 instead- still the gold standard of the franchise.

(yes, it falls between 3 stars for the cast alone, and 2 stars for everything else, so I had to invent another star rating)
Normal service will resume as normal this afternoon, with the long-promised reviews of 17 Again, The Boat That Rocked, Crank: High Voltage, Observe and Report and Race to Witch Mountain.

1 comment:

The Jester said...

Gotta say, I love that the film you acquainted Ryan Reynolds with was Adventureland. Only thing that would have been better would be "Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place" http://www.nobadmovies.net/2010/10/x-men-origins-wolverine.html
We basically rated this movie the same. Read it here.